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# Conversation with Walter

Last night over dinner Walter Blackstock politely expressed some concerns about how the Azimuth Project can have a significant effect.

For starters, he said he was pessimistic about people taking serious action against global warming until it's "too late" — too late to prevent it, that is.

I told him I agreed completely, and that this pessimism underlies all my thinking about Azimuth. I imagine that as time passes, the climate will start getting noticeably bad, and popular pressure wil increasingly push governments to get serious about global warming. The governments will wish they'd done something sooner. They will do a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing. But hopefully they will start trying to do something. Some will say it is "too late". It will indeed be too late to prevent global warming, and very hard to reverse it. But nonetheless, it will not be too late to do something that has some useful effect.

And at this point — not a sharply defined moment — it will be useful to have a bunch of scientists and engineers who know a lot about the problems and what to do about them. Ideally there would even be some sort of rough consensus about a lot of questions like:

1) should we build a lot of nuclear reactors? what kind?

2) should we produce a lot of biofuels? what kind?

3) should we produce a lot of solar power? how?

4) should we produce a lot of wind energy? how?

5) how can we best conserve energy?

and so on. And ideally there would be an overall strategy mapped out, and groups of people with expertise on different aspects.

So, my idea is that the Azimuth Project should help:

1) get lots of students interested in these issues

2) get lots of scientists and engineers interested

3) accumulate expert knowledge

4) lay it out in a way that's very easy to absorb and navigate

5) make it easy for scientists and engineers to find important projects to work on

and maybe even

6) start figuring out an overall strategy.

Walter was focused on part 6). He said we should figure out what's really important, what will really work, and not waste much time on secondary stuff.

(He didn't say it in boldface, in fact he was quite apologetic about it. But I think it's true and important.)

For example, he said, people just aren't going to grind up 48 gigatons of serpentine a year to absorb CO2. You have to find stuff that people will actually do — presumably because something is in it for them! For example: we should be building lots of nuclear power plants.

So if someone wants to spend time writing articles about enhanced weathering that's fine, but we should try to map out some priorities and focus on the really important stuff — the stuff that might work.

Whatcha think?

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edited October 2010

So, one thing I might do, for starters, is go through various "plans of action" that people have proposed regarding global warming, and summarize them on the blog.

Then I could compare them and come up with my own.

It would be sort of half-assed, at first, but still perhaps useful.

Comment Source:So, one thing I might do, for starters, is go through various "plans of action" that people have proposed regarding global warming, and summarize them on the blog. Then I could compare them and come up with my own. It would be sort of half-assed, at first, but still perhaps useful.
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edited October 2010

There are various conferences here in Singapore that could be good, in theory. Like this:

Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW): an annual platform for energy professionals, policy makers and commentators to discuss energy issues, strategies and solutions.

SIEW aims to facilitate the exchange of ideas and discussions on pertinent energy-related issues, while simultaneously meeting the strategic objectives of Singapore’s commitment to becoming a global leading energy hub.

First held in 2008, attendance at SIEW doubled from about 2,500 participants in 2008 to over 5,000 last year.

Problem: it's expensive.

The Singapore Energy Lecture is free: on November 1st, Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong will "map out the nation’s route to a sustainable future". Sounds good. I registered for that one, so I'll get to hear what the Prime Minister has to say.

But the Singapore Energy Summit, a "senior-level forum where ministers, policy makers, business leaders and academics come together to examine the energy landscape in Asia-Pacific and discuss solutions needed for the region to balance its needs for energy security, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness", costs 1,200 dollars. I guess that's to keep out the riff-raff, like me.

And so on...

Comment Source:There are various conferences here in Singapore that could be good, in theory. Like this: > <a href = "http://singapore.iew.com.sg/about-siew">Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW)</a>: an annual platform for energy professionals, policy makers and commentators to discuss energy issues, strategies and solutions. > SIEW aims to facilitate the exchange of ideas and discussions on pertinent energy-related issues, while simultaneously meeting the strategic objectives of Singapore’s commitment to becoming a global leading energy hub. > First held in 2008, attendance at SIEW doubled from about 2,500 participants in 2008 to over 5,000 last year. Problem: it's expensive. The <a href = "http://singapore.iew.com.sg/singapore-energy-lecture">Singapore Energy Lecture</a> is free: on November 1st, Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong will "map out the nation’s route to a sustainable future". Sounds good. I registered for that one, so I'll get to hear what the Prime Minister has to say. But the <a href = "http://singapore.iew.com.sg/singapore-energy-summit">Singapore Energy Summit</a>, a "senior-level forum where ministers, policy makers, business leaders and academics come together to examine the energy landscape in Asia-Pacific and discuss solutions needed for the region to balance its needs for energy security, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness", costs 1,200 dollars. I guess that's to keep out the riff-raff, like me. And so on...
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Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong will "map out the nation’s route to a sustainable future". Sounds good. I registered for that one, so I'll get to hear what the Prime Minister has to say.

...costs 1,200 dollars. I guess that's to keep out the riff-raff, like me.

That's the usual price for a day long event - outside of academia, that is. Note that people don't pay it themselves, but their employer does it for them, usually, and it is more about being seen and heard and networking.

Whatcha think?

I'd say it's okay to mix different levels of feasibility and vision, as long as you point it out as such :-)

If you start envisioning great changes in our society and economy without further ado, people like politicians and business leaders will stop listening, and you'll be considered to be just another "crackpot let loose from his ivory tower".

But I enjoy both, and I think both are necessary.

Comment Source:<blockquote> <p> Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong will "map out the nation’s route to a sustainable future". Sounds good. I registered for that one, so I'll get to hear what the Prime Minister has to say. </p> </blockquote> May I indulge in anticipation to read about it on Azimuth? <blockquote> <p> ...costs 1,200 dollars. I guess that's to keep out the riff-raff, like me. </p> </blockquote> That's the usual price for a day long event - outside of academia, that is. Note that people don't pay it themselves, but their employer does it for them, usually, and it is more about being seen and heard and networking. <blockquote> <p> Whatcha think? </p> </blockquote> I'd say it's okay to mix different levels of feasibility and vision, as long as you point it out as such :-) If you start envisioning great changes in our society and economy without further ado, people like politicians and business leaders will stop listening, and you'll be considered to be just another "crackpot let loose from his ivory tower". But I enjoy both, and I think both are necessary.
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The real point of my starting this particular conversation is: I want to get some feedback about Walter's suggestions.

Comment Source:The real point of my starting this particular conversation is: I want to get some feedback about Walter's suggestions.
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5.

Sorry, so it's about "what are the most important problems and what are solutions that might actually work"?

From a German perspective that's easy: Most important problem: energy supply. Wether one cares about global warming/pollution or not, fossile fuels will come to an end, and maybe we'll live to see it.

Solutions that might actually work: Wind energy from the north sea, solar energy from Northern Afrika, replacing all cars by electric cars. All three ideas make a lot of sense from a purely economic point of view, no idealism needed. Good ideas concerning storing techniques and failsafe power grids are still missing, as are replacements of gasoline for planes and ships. Germany said good bye to nuclear energy ten years ago and won't turn around.

Comment Source:Sorry, so it's about "what are the most important problems and what are solutions that might actually work"? From a German perspective that's easy: Most important problem: energy supply. Wether one cares about global warming/pollution or not, fossile fuels will come to an end, and maybe we'll live to see it. Solutions that might actually work: Wind energy from the north sea, solar energy from Northern Afrika, replacing all cars by electric cars. All three ideas make a lot of sense from a purely economic point of view, no idealism needed. Good ideas concerning storing techniques and failsafe power grids are still missing, as are replacements of gasoline for planes and ships. Germany said good bye to nuclear energy ten years ago and won't turn around.
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edited October 2010

Tim wrote:

Sorry, so it's about "what are the most important problems and what are solutions that might actually work"?

Yes, and also another question: should we try to figure out what the most important problems are, what solutions might work, and concentrate our energies on those?

Walter was gently suggesting that, for example, a page about enhanced weathering is a waste of time if nobody is going to use that method of saving the planet. More precisely: everyone can do what they want, but as a group we should have some sort of clear focus, to maximize our impact.

From a German perspective that's easy: Most important problem: energy supply.

I agree with that. Anyone here disagree?

Solutions that might actually work: Wind energy from the north sea, solar energy from Northern Afrika, replacing all cars by electric cars. All three ideas make a lot of sense from a purely economic point of view, no idealism needed.

I agree that it's important to think about things that make sense 'purely economically' - meaning, 'even if we treat massive climate change as an externality, to be ignored until it actually happens'.

When you say these solutions 'might actually work', do you think they will supply enough power to replace fossil fuels at some point? Or just that they'll help to some extent?

Walter said we need to focus on nuclear, and I agree with that. I guess you're saying that in Germany that's politically unacceptable?

When I say we need to focus on nuclear, I don't mean that we shouldn't also focus on solar and wind. If we focus, we probably need to focus on a 'portfolio' of energy sources which taken all together have the ability to replace fossil fuels.

The World Nuclear Association report, while extremely optimistic in some ways, is also quite scary. In their optimistic projections there's a big shortage of non-fossil-fuels until 2080. And I think this only includes electrical power!

However, their scenario seems to assume that electric power consumption will soar merrily upwards forever...

Comment Source:Tim wrote: > Sorry, so it's about "what are the most important problems and what are solutions that might actually work"? Yes, and also another question: _should *we* try to figure out what the most important problems are, what solutions might work, and *concentrate our energies on those?*_ Walter was gently suggesting that, for example, a page about [[enhanced weathering]] is a waste of time if nobody is going to use that method of saving the planet. More precisely: everyone can do what they want, but as a group we should have some sort of clear focus, to maximize our impact. > From a German perspective that's easy: Most important problem: energy supply. I agree with that. Anyone here disagree? > Solutions that might actually work: Wind energy from the north sea, solar energy from Northern Afrika, replacing all cars by electric cars. All three ideas make a lot of sense from a purely economic point of view, no idealism needed. I agree that it's important to think about things that make sense 'purely economically' - meaning, 'even if we treat massive climate change as an externality, to be ignored until it actually happens'. When you say these solutions 'might actually work', do you think they will supply enough power to replace fossil fuels at some point? Or just that they'll help _to some extent_? Walter said we need to focus on nuclear, and I agree with that. I guess you're saying that in Germany that's politically unacceptable? When I say we need to focus on nuclear, I _don't_ mean that we shouldn't _also_ focus on solar and wind. If we focus, we probably need to focus on a 'portfolio' of energy sources which _taken all together_ have the ability to replace fossil fuels. The [World Nuclear Association](http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Nuclear+power#world_nuclear_association_7) report, while extremely optimistic in some ways, is also quite scary. In their optimistic projections there's a big shortage of non-fossil-fuels until 2080. And I think this only includes electrical power! However, their scenario seems to assume that electric power consumption will soar merrily upwards forever...
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JB wrote:

...also another question: should we try to figure out what the most important problems are, what solutions might work, and concentrate our energies on those?

When I wrote

I'd say it's okay to mix different levels of feasibility and vision, as long as you point it out as such.

...I did not address your question because I was talking about my own preferences instead of the strategy of the group? Me, I'm very much an engineer, so I'd spend time on solutions that are doable and stand a chance to convince enough people to be executed some day anyway, so, yes, I think the group should concentrate on those. (I'm also a theoretical physicist at heart and convinced that we cannot know what will be possible in 20 or 50 years, and I have empathy for people who write papers about harnessing black holes to use Hawking radiation to propell spacecrafts :-)

Example nuclear power: There are several different aspects of this story:

a) It's doable: We know how to build fairly save plants and how to operate them.

b) It's not unacceptable: There are countries who build and operate nuclear plants,

c) right now it would be the end of the career of any politician in Germany to be openly pro nuclear and it will be this way for at least another 20 years.

The latter point is both localized and volatile, so I'd say that nuclear passes Walter's acceptance test due to a) and b).

With regard to the situation of nuclear power in Germany:

When you say these solutions 'might actually work', do you think they will supply enough power to replace fossil fuels at some point? Or just that they'll help to some extent?

I don't have an opinion about this yet, but the German government plans to get ca. 50% of electric power via wind and solar in 2030 - 2050. I'd guess that they don't plan further ahead and don't know how to get the rest :-)

When I say we need to focus on nuclear, I don't mean that we shouldn't also focus on solar and wind. If we focus, we probably need to focus on a 'portfolio' of energy sources which taken all together have the ability to replace fossil fuels.

I very much agree, but most Germans don't. There are several reasons for this:

1. Nuclear is expensive, unsafe and not future-proof anyway,

2. Investment in nuclear is considered to harm sustainable energy sources, because if nuclear electricity becomes cheaper, this will harm investments in wind and solar energy.

3. Germany should take the lead into a world without nuclear power and show the rest of the world that it can be done.

The latter point was a key argument for the last Government to ban nuclear all on its own, without the support of any other country of the European Union.

Comment Source:JB wrote: <blockquote> <p> ...also another question: should we try to figure out what the most important problems are, what solutions might work, and concentrate our energies on those? </p> </blockquote> When I wrote <blockquote> <p> I'd say it's okay to mix different levels of feasibility and vision, as long as you point it out as such. </p> </blockquote> ...I did not address your question because I was talking about my own preferences instead of the strategy of the group? Me, I'm very much an engineer, so I'd spend time on solutions that are doable <i>and</i> stand a chance to convince enough people to be executed some day anyway, so, yes, I think the group should concentrate on those. (I'm also a theoretical physicist at heart and convinced that we cannot know what will be possible in 20 or 50 years, and I have empathy for people who write papers about harnessing black holes to use Hawking radiation to propell spacecrafts :-) Example nuclear power: There are several different aspects of this story: a) It's doable: We know how to build fairly save plants and how to operate them. b) It's not unacceptable: There are countries who build and operate nuclear plants, c) right now it would be the end of the career of <i>any</i> politician in Germany to be openly pro nuclear and it will be this way for at least another 20 years. The latter point is both localized and volatile, so I'd say that nuclear passes Walter's acceptance test due to a) and b). With regard to the situation of nuclear power in Germany: <blockquote> <p> When you say these solutions 'might actually work', do you think they will supply enough power to replace fossil fuels at some point? Or just that they'll help to some extent? </p> </blockquote> I don't have an opinion about this yet, but the German government plans to get ca. 50% of electric power via wind and solar in 2030 - 2050. I'd guess that they don't plan further ahead and don't know how to get the rest :-) <blockquote> <p> When I say we need to focus on nuclear, I don't mean that we shouldn't also focus on solar and wind. If we focus, we probably need to focus on a 'portfolio' of energy sources which taken all together have the ability to replace fossil fuels. </p> </blockquote> I very much agree, but most Germans don't. There are several reasons for this: 1. Nuclear is expensive, unsafe and not future-proof anyway, 2. Investment in nuclear is considered to harm sustainable energy sources, because if nuclear electricity becomes cheaper, this will harm investments in wind and solar energy. 3. Germany should take the lead into a world without nuclear power and show the rest of the world that it can be done. The latter point was a key argument for the last Government to ban nuclear all on its own, without the support of any other country of the European Union.
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edited October 2010

Tim wrote:

Me, I'm very much an engineer, so I'd spend time on solutions that are doable and stand a chance to convince enough people to be executed some day anyway, so, yes, I think the group should concentrate on those.

Okay, so we see eye-to-eye on this point. I'd like to hear what other people think. We don't all need to agree! But if a bunch of us do agree on something, that'll 1) reassure me that I'm not crazy, and 2) help us focus our energy.

Thanks for the analysis of Germany and nuclear power. It's great for Germany to try to show the world it can do without nuclear. But are they also trying to do without coal and oil, or is that too hard?

Do any Greens ever come out and say: "We plan to generate 50% of electrical power with fossil fuels by 2030-2050"?

But I shouldn't be too harsh:

Even if they are behaving in what I consider a suboptimal manner, at least they're trying something new and bold, and they will learn new things and develop new technologies.

Comment Source:Tim wrote: >Me, I'm very much an engineer, so I'd spend time on solutions that are doable and stand a chance to convince enough people to be executed some day anyway, so, yes, I think the group should concentrate on those. Okay, so we see eye-to-eye on this point. I'd like to hear what other people think. We don't all need to agree! But if a bunch of us do agree on something, that'll 1) reassure me that I'm not crazy, and 2) help us focus our energy. Thanks for the analysis of Germany and nuclear power. It's great for Germany to try to show the world it can do without nuclear. But are they also trying to do without coal and oil, or is that too hard? <img src = "http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/emoticons/rolleyes.gif" alt = ""/> Do any Greens ever come out and say: "We plan to generate 50% of electrical power with fossil fuels by 2030-2050"? But I shouldn't be too harsh: Even if they are behaving in what I consider a suboptimal manner, at least they're trying something new and bold, and they will learn new things and develop new technologies.
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Do any Greens ever come out and say: "We plan to generate 50% of electrical power with fossil fuels by 2030-2050"?

No. How the world will look like without fossile fuels has not been a topic yet, I don't know why :-)

But note: The Greens may have been the driving force in the 1980s, but today all parties in Germany are green in this sense. The current government consists of the conservative christian democrats (the party of chancellor Angela Merkel) and the liberals (a party that supports the free market and entrepreneurship). Well, it would take much more to explain this in detail, because the political landscape is quite complicated and does not match the one in the USA, and the left/right or liberal/conservative dimensions don't help much.

But anyway, this would be the ideal political combination to re-introduce nuclear in Germany, and they don't do it - and don't intend to.

Even if they are behaving in what I consider a suboptimal manner, at least they're trying something new and bold, and they will learn new things and develop new technologies.

This reminds me of a Simspons episode, Kent Brockman, the news anchorman, comments on the activity on Springfield by saying: "This is a clear sign that the citizens of Springfield never give up - and never think anything through" :-)

Comment Source:<blockquote> <p> Do any Greens ever come out and say: "We plan to generate 50% of electrical power with fossil fuels by 2030-2050"? </p> </blockquote> No. How the world will look like without fossile fuels has not been a topic yet, I don't know why :-) But note: The Greens may have been the driving force in the 1980s, but today <i>all</i> parties in Germany are green in this sense. The current government consists of the conservative christian democrats (the party of chancellor Angela Merkel) and the liberals (a party that supports the free market and entrepreneurship). Well, it would take much more to explain this in detail, because the political landscape is quite complicated and does not match the one in the USA, and the left/right or liberal/conservative dimensions don't help much. But anyway, this would be the ideal political combination to re-introduce nuclear in Germany, and they don't do it - and don't intend to. <blockquote> <p> Even if they are behaving in what I consider a suboptimal manner, at least they're trying something new and bold, and they will learn new things and develop new technologies. </p> </blockquote> This reminds me of a Simspons episode, Kent Brockman, the news anchorman, comments on the activity on Springfield by saying: "This is a clear sign that the citizens of Springfield never give up - and never think anything through" :-)
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edited October 2010

Speaking of opposition to nuclear power, did you see how Jacobson and Delucchi computed the carbon footprint for nuclear power?

But I'm hoping that even if Germans don't think the nuclear issue through carefully enough, they will develop some technologies that larger, more important countries like India can use in combination with nuclear to seriously cut carbon emissions.

Btw, the word is "fossil fuels", not "fossile fuels". Though we also need to cut back on "facile fools", and also on "fossil fools"...

Comment Source:Speaking of opposition to nuclear power, did you see how [Jacobson and Delucchi](http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/A+Path+To+Sustainable+Energy#barry_brook_4) computed the carbon footprint for nuclear power? But I'm hoping that even if Germans don't think the nuclear issue through carefully enough, they will develop some technologies that larger, more important <img src = "http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/emoticons/tongue2.gif" alt = ""/> countries like India can use <i>in combination</i> with nuclear to seriously cut carbon emissions. Btw, the word is "fossil fuels", not "fossile fuels". Though we also need to cut back on "facile fools", and also on "fossil fools"...
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You may have to start a new thread to get the answers you initially looked for, sorry, I once again trailed off :-)

...they will develop some technologies that larger, more important countries like India can use in combination with nuclear to seriously cut carbon emissions.

The reason why Germans think that it matters what technologies they endorse and which not is the fact that Germany was the "export world champion" for a long time, now it's second behind China (countries by export), but unlike China Germany exports mostly high-tech machinery.

"China is the factory of the world, and Germany furnishes it".

...even if Germans don't think the nuclear issue through carefully enough...

One paradox of the whole story is that Germans know how to design and build very efficient and safe nuclear plants, but had to buy eletricity from both France and Russia in the meantime, who both operate nuclear plants that are considerably lacking in both, in comparison.

Btw, the word is "fossil fuels", not "fossile fuels". Though we also need to cut back on "facile fools", and also on "fossil fools"...

I'll try to keep that in mind :-)

Comment Source:You may have to start a new thread to get the answers you initially looked for, sorry, I once again trailed off :-) <blockquote> <p> ...they will develop some technologies that larger, more important countries like India can use in combination with nuclear to seriously cut carbon emissions. </p> </blockquote> The reason why Germans think that it matters what technologies they endorse and which not is the fact that Germany was the "export world champion" for a long time, now it's second behind China (<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_exports">countries by export</a>), but unlike China Germany exports mostly high-tech machinery. "China is the factory of the world, and Germany furnishes it". <blockquote> <p> ...even if Germans don't think the nuclear issue through carefully enough... </p> </blockquote> One paradox of the whole story is that Germans know how to design and build very efficient and safe nuclear plants, but had to buy eletricity from both France and Russia in the meantime, who both operate nuclear plants that are considerably lacking in both, in comparison. <blockquote> <p> Btw, the word is "fossil fuels", not "fossile fuels". Though we also need to cut back on "facile fools", and also on "fossil fools"... </p> </blockquote> I'll try to keep that in mind :-)
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edited October 2010

Tim's been talking about Germany, so I'll talk about Scotland! Its more cheering (for me) than looking the whole of the UK, let lone the whole world. But more seriously, different issues will be important in different places, and trying to achieve a focus globally could be difficult.

Scotland is currently committed to achieve a headline target of 20% of total Scottish energy use coming from renewables sources by 2020. Specific targets include 50% of electricity demand, a 10% target for renewable transport and 11% target of heat demand.

From Renewables Action Plan by the Scottish Government, June 2009

The target for renewable electricity was increased to 80 per cent, in September 2010

Scotland is estimated to have 60 GW of renewable energy resources - the equivalent of three-quarters of the UK's installed electricity generating capacity.

Or keeping it all in Scotland, that's 12kW each (pop = 5M).

Comment Source:Tim's been talking about Germany, so I'll talk about Scotland! Its more cheering (for me) than looking the whole of the UK, let lone the whole world. But more seriously, different issues will be important in different places, and trying to achieve a focus globally could be difficult. > Scotland is currently committed to achieve a headline target of 20% of total Scottish energy use coming from renewables sources by 2020. Specific targets include 50% of electricity demand, a 10% target for renewable transport and 11% target of heat demand. From [Renewables Action Plan by the Scottish Government](http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/278424/0083663.pdf), June 2009 The target for renewable electricity was [increased to 80 per cent](http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2010/09/23134359), in September 2010 Scotland is estimated to have [60 GW of renewable energy resources](http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Business-Industry/Energy/Infrastructure) - the equivalent of three-quarters of the UK's installed electricity generating capacity. Or keeping it all in Scotland, that's 12kW each (pop = 5M).
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edited October 2010

It's almost a month since John launched Azimuth, hard work for him and perhaps a measure of frustration too. Though a scientist by trade, I am increasingly less so by inclination, so the strict scientific stance of Azimuth leaves out many of the issues that interest me. So, I asked for clarity of Azimuth's purpose.

1. My trade is mass spectrometry. I am a Natural Product chemist by training: my love of biodiversity is in the complex molecular scaffolds that Nature has evolved and which provide synthetic challenges that are almost an art-form. Paradoxically, they are usually too complex to provide useful drugs, so it's a pure intellectual pleasure. Many of you are mathematicians, or of that ilk, and while I would like to better understand say, Bayesian inference (not least because we use for building mass spectrometry-based protein identification models), I am past that age.

2. "Saving the Planet" risks hubris. To me it suggests saving the conditions that will allow one particular species, our own (and a subset of that), continued use of resources and movement along the trajectory we call "civilisation". That's acceptable, but exclusive. The earth with its cargo of life will, I assume, persist for deep-time. I see no reason to believe that we will be there for the duration. This is neither pessimism nor quietism. The resourcefulness of life humbles me.

3. Azimuth has got off to a good start, and its clarity is unfolding, even to this querulous old man. But note that it seems male and mathematical at the moment, prone to a harvesting of facts and an exhortation to analysis. Here I get nervous. I assume there are professionals out there whose understanding of almost all the topics in Azimuth is deep: that is their daily work. It's not clear to me how Azimuth will assess other professionals in areas that the contributors have at best cursorily studied (apologies if there are climate scientists among you) ("incompetence" in the non-pejorative sense someone commented). As mathematicians you have powerful tools and you are predisposed to think analytically, but real depth takes time and effort. I can read one paper a week - if that. I skim many more of course, but skim is the word.

4. It was said of sequencing the human genome that what it accomplished was to move the information from a wet medium (the cell) where humans find it difficult and slow to work, to a pattern of bits on magnetic media that we can store and manipulate using computers, a medium that suits us better. No information was added. Is that Azimuth, moving information from various disparate sources into a container that we find more useful to manipulate? I don't think so, but consuming will always be easier than producing (nod to Lisa). Azimuth I take to be in the "consuming" phase of its development and will move to "producing", but we don't have resources for everything. I'd pick one big topic, ideally one that emerges by consensus rather than imposition.

5. To assess raw data is hard. In my own area, publications carry supplementary pages ten or more times longer than the published paper, increasingly with raw files uploaded to repositories. (Incidentally, raw data storage and access, physically and in terms of intellectual property, is a minefield). I assume we will never download raw data from satellites or temperature buoys and reprocess it under a different model! That's for the professionals, right? So where does analysis begin and end? Would it be correct to say that Azimuth will prepare a meta-analysis in certain fields which are important and where change can have the biggest impact? My point is to move away from the granular to the bigger picture, but maybe that's not how others see it.

6. "Politics is not about maximising rationality. It is about finding compromises that enough people can tolerate to allow society to take steps in the right direction. So, contrary to all our modern instincts, political progress on climate change simply cannot be solved by injecting more scientific information into politics". (Hartwell Papers 2010)

7. Writing these notes, there is a thick haze over Singapore, arising (literally) from land clearance in Sumatra, a direct example of how one country's policies impact another, and how little can be done to change this. I assume that in the next centuries sovereign states will deplete the oil, gas and then coal reserves to exhaustion, and push the carbon dioxide level well beyond 500ppm. Should the focus for Azimuth be on adaptation, dealing with the effects of climate change and not the causes. This would not be about floating cities or synthetic biology, but modelling collapse and survival. Small, pragmatic steps.

I don't have clear answers. I get my direction by what unfolds from within, but that takes time.

Maybe a beer will help me think - it is Friday!

Comment Source:It's almost a month since John launched Azimuth, hard work for him and perhaps a measure of frustration too. Though a scientist by trade, I am increasingly less so by inclination, so the strict scientific stance of Azimuth leaves out many of the issues that interest me. So, I asked for clarity of Azimuth's purpose. 1. My trade is mass spectrometry. I am a Natural Product chemist by training: my love of biodiversity is in the complex molecular scaffolds that Nature has evolved and which provide synthetic challenges that are almost an art-form. Paradoxically, they are usually too complex to provide useful drugs, so it's a pure intellectual pleasure. Many of you are mathematicians, or of that ilk, and while I would like to better understand say, Bayesian inference (not least because we use for building mass spectrometry-based protein identification models), I am past that age. 2. "Saving the Planet" risks hubris. To me it suggests saving the conditions that will allow one particular species, our own (and a subset of that), continued use of resources and movement along the trajectory we call "civilisation". That's acceptable, but exclusive. The earth with its cargo of life will, I assume, persist for deep-time. I see no reason to believe that we will be there for the duration. This is neither pessimism nor quietism. The resourcefulness of life humbles me. 3. Azimuth has got off to a good start, and its clarity is unfolding, even to this querulous old man. But note that it seems male and mathematical at the moment, prone to a harvesting of facts and an exhortation to analysis. Here I get nervous. I assume there are professionals out there whose understanding of almost all the topics in Azimuth is deep: that is their daily work. It's not clear to me how Azimuth will assess other professionals in areas that the contributors have at best cursorily studied (apologies if there are climate scientists among you) ("incompetence" in the non-pejorative sense someone commented). As mathematicians you have powerful tools and you are predisposed to think analytically, but real depth takes time and effort. I can read one paper a week - if that. I skim many more of course, but skim is the word. 4. It was said of sequencing the human genome that what it accomplished was to move the information from a wet medium (the cell) where humans find it difficult and slow to work, to a pattern of bits on magnetic media that we can store and manipulate using computers, a medium that suits us better. No information was added. Is that Azimuth, moving information from various disparate sources into a container that we find more useful to manipulate? I don't think so, but consuming will always be easier than producing (nod to Lisa). Azimuth I take to be in the "consuming" phase of its development and will move to "producing", but we don't have resources for everything. I'd pick one big topic, ideally one that emerges by consensus rather than imposition. 5. To assess raw data is hard. In my own area, publications carry supplementary pages ten or more times longer than the published paper, increasingly with raw files uploaded to repositories. (Incidentally, raw data storage and access, physically and in terms of intellectual property, is a minefield). I assume we will never download raw data from satellites or temperature buoys and reprocess it under a different model! That's for the professionals, right? So where does analysis begin and end? Would it be correct to say that Azimuth will prepare a meta-analysis in certain fields which are important and where change can have the biggest impact? My point is to move away from the granular to the bigger picture, but maybe that's not how others see it. 6. "Politics is not about maximising rationality. It is about finding compromises that enough people can tolerate to allow society to take steps in the right direction. So, contrary to all our modern instincts, political progress on climate change simply _cannot_ be solved by injecting more scientific information into politics". (Hartwell Papers 2010) 7. Writing these notes, there is a thick haze over Singapore, arising (literally) from land clearance in Sumatra, a direct example of how one country's policies impact another, and how little can be done to change this. I assume that in the next centuries sovereign states will deplete the oil, gas and then coal reserves to exhaustion, and push the carbon dioxide level well beyond 500ppm. Should the focus for Azimuth be on adaptation, dealing with the effects of climate change and not the causes. This would not be about floating cities or synthetic biology, but modelling collapse and survival. Small, pragmatic steps. I don't have clear answers. I get my direction by what unfolds from within, but that takes time. Maybe a beer will help me think - it is Friday!
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14.
edited October 2010

Dear Walter,

It's almost a month since John launched Azimuth, hard work for him and perhaps a measure of frustration too.

It's hard to get a project like this one going, I sincerely hope that this will not be too frustrating though.

"Saving the Planet" risks hubris. To me it suggests saving the conditions that will allow one particular species, our own (and a subset of that), continued use of resources and movement along the trajectory we call "civilisation".

That's how I understand and always have understood the tagline "saving the planet", like Steward Brand wrote in "Whole Earth Discipline":

Talk of "Saving the Planet" is overstated, however. Earth will be fine, no matter what; so will life. It is humans who are in trouble.

Walter wrote:

I assume there are professionals out there whose understanding of almost all the topics in Azimuth is deep: that is their daily work. It's not clear to me how Azimuth will assess other professionals in areas that the contributors have at best cursorily studied.

I agree and I don't have an idea how to attract professionals to Azimuth, but I hope for the best.

BTW: Under the hood of every expert there is someone who is muddling through, like everyone else. But on a higher level.

I can read one paper a week...

I need two weeks for a paper, and two hours on average for every sentence that contains the word "obvious".

I'd pick one big topic, ideally one that emerges by consensus rather than imposition.

Agreed, although I'd say that Azimuth may support many projects, but someone like me will be able to contribute to only one of them, at most. But we'll need several more weeks or months to figure this out.

My point is to move away from the granular to the bigger picture, but maybe that's not how others see it... political progress on climate change simply cannot be solved by injecting more scientific information into politics...

I beg to differ: All politicians have to cite science to support their points of view. And science enters the discussions from several directions, e.g. see the book Roy W. Spencer: "The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Climate Scientists". A key criticism of the author is that climate models are opaque, too complex and the results are not reproduceable. I'd could try to concentrate on creating a simple, portable, easy to understand and well documented toy climate model as a reaction to this kind of criticism. This is a kind of project that I could, maybe, handle. But I don't know how I could possibly contribute to any bigger picture, and I don't think that I would have a bigger impact if I tried to, not at all.

...a direct example of how one country's policies impact another, and how little can be done to change this.

...and an example that nations as the dominating political structure are obsolete, the 21th century will need structures that support cooperation on a supra-national basis (note: not supernatural). I hope that the European union will some day be an example of how this could be achieved.

...but modelling collapse and survival.

From my POV this is overly pessimistic. Maybe I'm biased because I grew up in a culture recovering from a nearly complete destruction (I'm German).

Maybe a beer will help me think - it is Friday!

If I could I'd pay for a round of a selection of the finest beers available in Munich, there is one flavour for every taste - unless you don't like carbonated beverages.

Comment Source:Dear Walter, please allow me some quick comments: <blockquote> <p> It's almost a month since John launched Azimuth, hard work for him and perhaps a measure of frustration too. </p> </blockquote> It's hard to get a project like this one going, I sincerely hope that this will not be <i>too</i> frustrating though. <blockquote> <p> "Saving the Planet" risks hubris. To me it suggests saving the conditions that will allow one particular species, our own (and a subset of that), continued use of resources and movement along the trajectory we call "civilisation". </p> </blockquote> That's how I understand and always have understood the tagline "saving the planet", like Steward Brand wrote in "Whole Earth Discipline": <blockquote> <p> Talk of "Saving the Planet" is overstated, however. Earth will be fine, no matter what; so will life. It is humans who are in trouble. </p> </blockquote> Walter wrote: <blockquote> <p> I assume there are professionals out there whose understanding of almost all the topics in Azimuth is deep: that is their daily work. It's not clear to me how Azimuth will assess other professionals in areas that the contributors have at best cursorily studied. </p> </blockquote> I agree and I don't have an idea how to attract professionals to Azimuth, but I hope for the best. BTW: Under the hood of every expert there is someone who is muddling through, like everyone else. But on a higher level. <blockquote> <p> I can read one paper a week... </p> </blockquote> I need two weeks for a paper, and two hours on average for every sentence that contains the word "obvious". <blockquote> <p> I'd pick one big topic, ideally one that emerges by consensus rather than imposition. </p> </blockquote> Agreed, although I'd say that Azimuth may support many projects, but someone like me will be able to contribute to only one of them, at most. But we'll need several more weeks or months to figure this out. <blockquote> <p> My point is to move away from the granular to the bigger picture, but maybe that's not how others see it... political progress on climate change simply cannot be solved by injecting more scientific information into politics... </p> </blockquote> I beg to differ: All politicians have to cite science to support their points of view. And science enters the discussions from several directions, e.g. see the book Roy W. Spencer: "The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Climate Scientists". A key criticism of the author is that climate models are opaque, too complex and the results are not reproduceable. I'd could try to concentrate on creating a simple, portable, easy to understand and well documented toy climate model as a reaction to this kind of criticism. This is a kind of project that I could, maybe, handle. But I don't know how I could possibly contribute to any bigger picture, and I don't think that I would have a bigger impact if I tried to, not at all. <blockquote> <p> ...a direct example of how one country's policies impact another, and how little can be done to change this. </p> </blockquote> ...and an example that nations as the dominating political structure are obsolete, the 21th century will need structures that support cooperation on a supra-national basis (note: <i>not</i> supernatural). I hope that the European union will some day be an example of how this could be achieved. <blockquote> <p> ...but modelling collapse and survival. </p> </blockquote> From my POV this is overly pessimistic. Maybe I'm biased because I grew up in a culture recovering from a nearly complete destruction (I'm German). <blockquote> <p> Maybe a beer will help me think - it is Friday! </p> </blockquote> If I could I'd pay for a round of a selection of the finest beers available in Munich, there is one flavour for every taste - unless you don't like carbonated beverages.
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15.
edited October 2010

Now we're finally getting to that discussion I wanted here! Just a few comments for now - it's almost dinnertime. Walter writes:

"Saving the Planet" risks hubris. To me it suggests saving the conditions that will allow one particular species, our own (and a subset of that), continued use of resources and movement along the trajectory we call "civilisation".

I use the term "saving the planet" because it's easy to get a rough idea of what it means, and because it makes it clear that my goals are absurdly ambitious and difficult - not small and easy to achieve. It's also short. To be more precise, we need to say much more!

Personally speaking, I'm certainly not focused on keeping the planet safe for Homo sapiens. I'm just as concerned about the fact that the rate of extinction of species is at least 1500 times its normal rate — that's Lomborg's figure, so we can take it as a conservative one. Estimates range between 4 and 70 species a day. I find this tragic: information which took millions of years to be distilled is going down the toilet.

I assume there are professionals out there whose understanding of almost all the topics in Azimuth is deep: that is their daily work.

Right. The problem is, few of them understand all of these topics, and fewer still are willing to distill out the most crucial information and present it in a way that lots of people — at least every scientist or engineer — can easily understand. That's my job — and the job of anyone else who feels like helping.

[to be continued - this comment is too long, apparently!]

Comment Source:Now we're finally getting to that discussion I wanted here! Just a few comments for now - it's almost dinnertime. Walter writes: >"Saving the Planet" risks hubris. To me it suggests saving the conditions that will allow one particular species, our own (and a subset of that), continued use of resources and movement along the trajectory we call "civilisation". I use the term "saving the planet" because it's easy to get a <i>rough</i> idea of what it means, and because it makes it clear that my goals are absurdly ambitious and difficult - not small and easy to achieve. It's also short. To be more precise, we need to say much more! Personally speaking, I'm certainly <i>not</i> focused on keeping the planet safe for <i>Homo sapiens</i>. I'm just as concerned about the fact that the rate of [extinction](http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Extinction#the_holocene_extinction_4) of species is at least 1500 times its normal rate &mdash; that's Lomborg's figure, so we can take it as a conservative one. Estimates range between <i><b>4 and 70 species a day</b></i>. I find this tragic: information which took millions of years to be distilled is going down the toilet. > I assume there are professionals out there whose understanding of almost all the topics in Azimuth is deep: that is their daily work. Right. The problem is, few of them understand all of these topics, and fewer still are willing to distill out the most crucial information and present it in a way that lots of people &mdash; at least every scientist or engineer &mdash; can easily understand. That's my job &mdash; and the job of anyone else who feels like helping. [to be continued - this comment is too long, apparently!]
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16.
edited October 2010

We've been working on Azimuth for 26 days. In that time we've developed these pages:

I think anyone who reads these will get a decent overall sense of the big problems facing our planet, and some proposed strategies for solving them. Anyone with a scientific background can read all these pages in 8 hours. Anyone with a scientific background should know most of this stuff. Most don't... it seems to me.

But these pages need to be greatly improved, and not just by making more of them, or making them more detailed. They need to start with information that's very easy to read and important. The technical details need to be in back. And we need a "grand tour", an "overview", that leads readers easily through the whole story in an easy way. Some of the pages above are really important, others less so.

It's not clear to me how Azimuth will assess other professionals in areas that the contributors have at best cursorily studied ...

I think the trick is to attract experts on various areas and let them do these detailed assessments. My main disappointment so far is how few climate scientists, ecologists, energy technology specialists, and so on we've gotten on board. I guess the problem is that I started this thing, and people in those areas don't know or care about me: only mathematicians and physicists know about me.

One gradual solution is for me to keep attracting more attention to Azimuth. I plan to do that by

1) interviewing experts in different areas,

2) continuing to build up the Azimuth Project wiki as a quick and easy way to get an overview of many problems,

3) doing research on environmental or energy issues, publishing it, going to conferences, and thus gradually becoming better known in that field,

and

4) continuing to dream up new tricks.

But one thing that would really pay off is for us to figure out what's the most important problem and what are some ways to solve it.

I think the most important problem is energy: the lack of a sustainable source of power, one that doesn't demolish the atmosphere.

I'm trying to figure out how to solve this, so I'm summarizing various plans of action, and trying to get ready to compare them intelligently.

I've been doing this for a week so far. I will start blogging about these plans of action soon.

Item 4) above is one place I could really use some help!

Comment Source:We've been working on Azimuth for 26 days. In that time we've developed these pages: * [[Action plans]]: [[Nuclear Century Outlook]] &nbsp; [[A Path to Sustainable Energy]] &nbsp; [[The Full Global Warming Solution]] &nbsp; [[Stabilization wedges]] * [[Biodiversity]]: [[Colony collapse disorder]] &nbsp; [[Coral reef]] &nbsp; [[Dead zone]] &nbsp; [[Ecosystem services]] &nbsp; [[Extinction]] &nbsp; [[Tree of life]] * Carbon: [[Biochar]] &nbsp; [[Carbon capture and storage]] &nbsp; [[Carbon footprint]] &nbsp; [[Carbon is forever]] &nbsp; [[Carbon negative energy]] &nbsp; [[Enhanced weathering]] &nbsp; [[Terra preta]] &nbsp; * Climate: [[Abrupt climate change]] &nbsp; [[Atlantic meridional overturning circulation]] &nbsp; [[Dansgaard-Oeschger event]] &nbsp; [[Global warming]] &nbsp; [[Heinrich event]] &nbsp; [[Lake Agassiz]] &nbsp; [[NRC climate stabilization targets]] &nbsp; [[Sea level rise]] &nbsp; [[Tipping point]] &nbsp; [[Thermohaline circulation]] &nbsp; [[Younger Dryas]] * Energy: [[Biofuel]] &nbsp; [[Carbon negative energy]] &nbsp; [[Compressed air energy storage]] &nbsp; [[Cost of energy]] &nbsp; [[Energy extraction technology usage]] &nbsp; [[EROEI|Energy return on energy invested]] &nbsp; [[Export land model]] &nbsp; [[Generation IV technologies]] &nbsp; [[Molten salt reactor]] &nbsp; [[Nuclear power]] &nbsp; [[Power density]] &nbsp; [[Peak uranium]] &nbsp; [[Sodium-cooled fast reactor]] &nbsp; [[Solar radiation]] &nbsp; [[Solar updraft tower]] &nbsp; [[Wind farm]] &nbsp; * Organizations: [[350.org]] &nbsp; [[Climate and Energy Project]] &nbsp; [[CSIRO]] &nbsp; [[STEP]] &nbsp; [[World Nuclear Association]] * People: [[Stewart Brand]] &nbsp; [[Barry Brook]] &nbsp; [[Mark Delucchi]] &nbsp; [[Mark Jacobson]] &nbsp; [[David Keith]] &nbsp; [[David MacKay]] &nbsp; [[Joseph Romm]] &nbsp; [[Saul Griffith]] &nbsp; [[Vaclav Smil]] &nbsp; [[Nathan Urban]] * Things to do: [[Conferences]] &nbsp; [[Recommended reading]] &nbsp; * Other: [[Floating city]] &nbsp; [[Peak helium]] &nbsp; [[Peak phosphorus]] &nbsp; [[Psychology of sustainability]] I think anyone who reads these will get a decent overall sense of the big problems facing our planet, and some proposed strategies for solving them. Anyone with a scientific background can read all these pages in 8 hours. Anyone with a scientific background should know most of this stuff. Most don't... it seems to me. But these pages need to be greatly improved, and not just by making more of them, or making them more detailed. They need to <i>start</i> with information that's _very easy to read_ and _important_. The technical details need to be in back. And we need a "grand tour", an "overview", that leads readers easily through the whole story in an easy way. Some of the pages above are really important, others less so. > It's not clear to me how Azimuth will assess other professionals in areas that the contributors have at best cursorily studied ... I think the trick is to attract experts on various areas and let <i>them</i> do these detailed assessments. My main disappointment so far is how few climate scientists, ecologists, energy technology specialists, and so on we've gotten on board. I guess the problem is that I started this thing, and people in those areas don't know or care about me: only mathematicians and physicists know about me. One gradual solution is for me to keep attracting more attention to Azimuth. I plan to do that by 1) interviewing experts in different areas, 2) continuing to build up the Azimuth Project wiki as a quick and easy way to get an overview of many problems, 3) doing research on environmental or energy issues, publishing it, going to conferences, and thus gradually becoming better known in that field, and 4) continuing to dream up new tricks. But one thing that would really pay off is for us to figure out <b>what's the most important problem</b> and <b>what are some ways to solve it</b>. I think the most important problem is <b>energy</b>: the lack of a sustainable source of power, one that doesn't demolish the atmosphere. I'm trying to figure out how to solve this, so I'm summarizing various [[plans of action]], and trying to get ready to compare them intelligently. I've been doing this for a week so far. I will start blogging about these plans of action soon. <b>Item 4) above is one place I could really use some help!</b>
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17.

What's the main problem? Clearly there is a need for energy and this, together with agricultural surplus, is key to almost every process that supports civilisation. But we also have to contend with our human nature. It is understandable that humans will fight for survival when under threat. But they fail to recognise when their basic needs are securely met, and greed takes over. That's the main problem: greed.

Comment Source:What's the main problem? Clearly there is a need for energy and this, together with agricultural surplus, is key to almost every process that supports civilisation. But we also have to contend with our human nature. It is understandable that humans will fight for survival when under threat. But they fail to recognise when their basic needs are securely met, and greed takes over. That's the main problem: greed.
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18.

JB wrote:

...doing research on environmental or energy issues...and...continuing to dream up new tricks.

Do you already have something specific in mind you'd like to work on? What kind of tricks are we talking about? New kinds of energy sources or ways to improve existing ideas?

David wrote:

That's the main problem: greed.

I'm not sure, it would seem that many, if not all, life forms try to exploit their habitat to the extend that they are able, without any mechanism that hinders them from destroying it. The problem with humans is that they are very able.

But anyway, I don't think that this is a problem that can be solved by contemporary engineering methods :-)

Comment Source:JB wrote: <blockquote> <p> ...doing research on environmental or energy issues...and...continuing to dream up new tricks. </p> </blockquote> Do you already have something specific in mind you'd like to work on? What kind of tricks are we talking about? New kinds of energy sources or ways to improve existing ideas? David wrote: <blockquote> <p> That's the main problem: greed. </p> </blockquote> I'm not sure, it would seem that many, if not all, life forms try to exploit their habitat to the extend that they are able, without any mechanism that hinders them from destroying it. The problem with humans is that they are <i>very</i> able. But anyway, I don't think that this is a problem that can be solved by contemporary engineering methods :-)
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19.

Tim wrote:

What kind of tricks are we talking about? New kinds of energy sources or ways to improve existing ideas?

No, items 1)-4) were how I plan to "keep attracting more attention to Azimuth". I'm talking about new tricks for drawing attention to Azimuth. Only by attracting a much larger crowd of people can it do the things I'm dreaming of.

Comment Source:Tim wrote: >What kind of tricks are we talking about? New kinds of energy sources or ways to improve existing ideas? No, items 1)-4) were how I plan to "keep attracting more attention to Azimuth". I'm talking about new tricks for drawing attention to Azimuth. Only by attracting a much larger crowd of people can it do the things I'm dreaming of.
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20.
edited October 2010

David wrote:

That's the main problem: greed.

There's truth to that. Or one might say, along with George Mobus, "lack of sapience".

The question is: can we do something about this? George Mobus is actually trying to do something about it! That seems like a great long-term goal. However, I worry that it's too difficult to address this problem in time to minimize the short-term damage caused by global warming in the next few decades.

It sounds like Mobus agrees: he seems to think the short-term crisis is inevitable and may serve as a useful corrective:

The problem is us. Homo sapiens is an unfinished piece of evolutionary work. We find ourselves biologically advanced in most respects. We have incredible cleverness and curiosity. But we are still very much driven by animal spirits. We have built-in, limbic-controlled drives and biases. And we have a dirth of sapience (and wisdom) in light of our capacity to change the world to our liking (driven by those animal spirits). We are caught in the middle between our ability to destroy our world by creating new technologies (and consuming energy stores faster than they are replenished) and our understanding of what we are doing. We are not able to muster the self restraint on our exuberance, even in light of that understanding.

In this condition we would be uncommonly dangerous were we to try to exploit the new rules of evolution that we are just now starting to learn about. We would most likely make far more mistakes than would be warranted; do far more damage to the Ecos and ourselves than could be sustained. Thus, one might view the impending impasse, the evolutionary bottleneck that humanity has created for itself with the burning of fossil fuels (climate change and cultural dependence on high power sources) as an opportunity to not abuse the new rules. That is, our exuberance is about to be brought to its knees. And it will hopefully come in a manner that will prevent us from doing something monumentally foolish.

As if global warming were not already monumentally foolish.

But, I think I know what he means.

Comment Source:David wrote: >That's the main problem: greed. There's truth to that. Or one might say, along with [George Mobus](http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/sapience/), "lack of sapience". The question is: can we do something about this? George Mobus is actually trying to do something about it! That seems like a great long-term goal. However, I worry that it's too difficult to address this problem in time to minimize the _short-term_ damage caused by global warming in the next few decades. It sounds like Mobus agrees: he seems to think the short-term crisis is inevitable and may serve as a useful corrective: >The problem is us. _Homo sapiens_ is an unfinished piece of evolutionary work. We find ourselves biologically advanced in most respects. We have incredible cleverness and curiosity. But we are still very much driven by animal spirits. We have built-in, limbic-controlled drives and biases. And we have a dirth of sapience (and wisdom) in light of our capacity to change the world to our liking (driven by those animal spirits). We are caught in the middle between our ability to destroy our world by creating new technologies (and consuming energy stores faster than they are replenished) and our understanding of what we are doing. We are not able to muster the self restraint on our exuberance, even in light of that understanding. >In this condition we would be uncommonly dangerous were we to try to exploit the new rules of evolution that we are just now starting to learn about. We would most likely make far more mistakes than would be warranted; do far more damage to the Ecos and ourselves than could be sustained. Thus, one might view the impending impasse, the evolutionary bottleneck that humanity has created for itself with the burning of fossil fuels (climate change and cultural dependence on high power sources) as an opportunity to not abuse the new rules. That is, our exuberance is about to be brought to its knees. And it will hopefully come in a manner that will prevent us from doing something monumentally foolish. As if global warming were not already monumentally foolish. <img src = "http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/emoticons/cry.gif" alt = ""/> But, I think I know what he means.
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21.

John wrote:

I'm talking about new tricks for drawing attention to Azimuth.

Ugh, sorry, a simple misunderstanding.

I'm thinking about converting the C++ code of numerical recipes to Java, it seems doable, although it is a lot of work, of course.

This would serve as a warming up to implement some toy climate model.

I talked to a collegue of mine about it today and his response was: Count me in! Well, I have no illusions: This reaction is an exceptional case. But the point is: A lot of people are - in principle - interested in numerical code. Associating it with the Azimuth project could, maybe, draw some attention.

Comment Source:John wrote: <blockquote> <p> I'm talking about new tricks for drawing attention to Azimuth. </p> </blockquote> Ugh, sorry, a simple misunderstanding. I'm thinking about converting the C++ code of numerical recipes to Java, it seems doable, although it is a lot of work, of course. This would serve as a warming up to implement some toy climate model. I talked to a collegue of mine about it today and his response was: Count me in! Well, I have no illusions: This reaction is an exceptional case. But the point is: A lot of people are - in principle - interested in numerical code. Associating it with the Azimuth project could, maybe, draw some attention.
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22.
edited October 2010

[This is inevitably going to stray into areas I can't back up with figures.]

I'm a mixed-up optimist (I think the laws of nature and human ingenuity allow a solution) and pessimist (human nature will exacerbate the problems and won't put enough ingenuity to work) about the future. Walter wrote:

Should the focus for Azimuth be on adaptation, dealing with the effects of climate change and not the causes. This would not be about floating cities or synthetic biology, but modelling collapse and survival. Small, pragmatic steps.

I'm worried that this won't be enough. Part of my reasoning is an extremely amateur looks at business collapses over the past decade (even before recent economic problems "became manifest"), everything from small coffee shops to huge chains like Woolworths and Zaavi. One things that you very often see is that businesses don't shut down when the the numbers say that the business cannot recover (absent miracles like an unprecedented increase in customers). They often don't stop when all the activity is making things worse (eg, continuing to trade whilst not paying staff for months, etc). In fact, legally certain classes of business in the UK are "required" to shut down when it becomes this apparent so they don't rack up more debts and diminish the likely amount recouped by existing creditors, but they often fudge this to keep going "in the hope things will get better". Generally they keep going until there's literally no action they can take to keep going, and the "damage done" is much worse than if they'd stopped earlier. (This is like the biological idea of "population overshoot", except with intelligence to keep the overshoot going even longer.)

Take this as a context to consider enivronmental actions. Let's, in a decision theory way, consider the scenario there aren't huge technological breakthroughs that provide genuine solutions to these problems. There's the famous position-statement "The American way of life is non-negotiable", albeit made for the specific case of terrorism, but I think that sentiment extends to a large portion of the globe, not just America. What frightens me is that humanity as a whole will take the results of the current situation (weather pattern changes, declines in fossil fuels, food production problems, etc), which are a big enough set of problems in its own right, and attempt to produce "solutions" which attempt to keep "Business As Usual" essentially going. For example, continuing producing $CO_2$ emissions by burning any obtainable oil, coal, gas, methane clathrates, wood, biofuel, biomass. "Dealing with" falling crop yields due to climate by increasing fertilizer use and intensive agriculture mechanisms, along with diverting larger amounts of land to producing biofuel crops. Stripping the land of almost all trees to burn the wood. Doing who-knows-what to deal with soil erosion/depletion from previous two sentences. Extracting ever more "edibles" from the sea, pushing more marine ecosystems into collapse. Etc. Etc.

This scenario is an analogue of doing anything to keep things going as long as possible, so that when there is a collapse it's from a much worse position. I don't have any worries about the survival of the human race, but in that scenario I suspect the survial of human civilisation (ie, keeping enough people alive to keep all the knowledge we've gathered available to build on and advance) won't happen. So I think that just figuring out what will happen in advance won't be enough: I think it will be important to be able to show very compellingly that certain short term solutions are guaranteed to make things much worse in the long run, in order to stop them being implemented.

This post hasn't had much positive plans in it, partly because I don't have many. But I'll perhaps put what thoughts I do have in other posts later.

Comment Source:[This is inevitably going to stray into areas I can't back up with figures.] I'm a mixed-up optimist (I think the laws of nature and human ingenuity allow a solution) and pessimist (human nature will exacerbate the problems and won't put enough ingenuity to work) about the future. Walter wrote: > Should the focus for Azimuth be on adaptation, dealing with the effects of climate change and not the causes. This would not be about floating cities or synthetic biology, but modelling collapse and survival. Small, pragmatic steps. I'm worried that this won't be enough. Part of my reasoning is an extremely amateur looks at business collapses over the past decade (even before recent economic problems "became manifest"), everything from small coffee shops to huge chains like Woolworths and Zaavi. One things that you very often see is that businesses don't shut down when the the numbers say that the business cannot recover (absent miracles like an unprecedented increase in customers). They often don't stop when all the activity is making things worse (eg, continuing to trade whilst not paying staff for months, etc). In fact, legally certain classes of business in the UK are "required" to shut down when it becomes this apparent so they don't rack up more debts and diminish the likely amount recouped by existing creditors, but they often fudge this to keep going "in the hope things will get better". Generally they keep going until there's **literally no action they can take to keep going**, and the "damage done" is much worse than if they'd stopped earlier. (This is like the biological idea of "population overshoot", except with intelligence to keep the overshoot going even longer.) Take this as a context to consider enivronmental actions. Let's, in a decision theory way, consider the scenario there aren't huge technological breakthroughs that provide genuine solutions to these problems. There's the famous position-statement "The American way of life is non-negotiable", albeit made for the specific case of terrorism, but I think that sentiment extends to a large portion of the globe, not just America. What frightens me is that humanity as a whole will take the results of the current situation (weather pattern changes, declines in fossil fuels, food production problems, etc), which are a big enough set of problems in its own right, and attempt to produce "solutions" which attempt to keep "Business As Usual" essentially going. For example, continuing producing $CO_2$ emissions by burning any obtainable oil, coal, gas, methane clathrates, wood, biofuel, biomass. "Dealing with" falling crop yields due to climate by increasing fertilizer use and intensive agriculture mechanisms, along with diverting larger amounts of land to producing biofuel crops. Stripping the land of almost all trees to burn the wood. Doing who-knows-what to deal with soil erosion/depletion from previous two sentences. Extracting ever more "edibles" from the sea, pushing more marine ecosystems into collapse. Etc. Etc. This scenario is an analogue of doing anything to keep things going as long as possible, so that when there is a collapse it's from a much worse position. I don't have any worries about the survival of the human **race**, but in that scenario I suspect the survial of human **civilisation** (ie, keeping enough people alive to keep all the knowledge we've gathered available to build on and advance) won't happen. So I think that just figuring out what will happen in advance won't be enough: I think it will be important to be able to show very compellingly that certain short term solutions are guaranteed to make things much worse in the long run, in order to stop them being implemented. This post hasn't had much positive plans in it, partly because I don't have many. But I'll perhaps put what thoughts I do have in other posts later.
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23.
edited October 2010
Hello,

I would suggest to focus on point 2): "get lots of scientists and engineers interested".
I think I have some ideas about no.2, would it be ok if I just try doing a bit PR and networking for Azimuth?
Comment Source:Hello, I would suggest to focus on point 2): "get lots of scientists and engineers interested". I think I have some ideas about no.2, would it be ok if I just try doing a bit PR and networking for Azimuth?
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24.

Thomas: of course it's okay to do some PR for Azimuth! Please do! Can you tell us your ideas?

Comment Source:Thomas: _of course_ it's okay to do some PR for Azimuth! Please do! Can you tell us your ideas?
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25.

Just a suggestion: How about asking the hosts of other blogs (like Tarry Tao's blog) to add Azimuth to their blogroll? That won't attract climate scientists in a first order approximation, but maybe the mathematicians over there will talk to collegues and spread the word...

Comment Source:Just a suggestion: How about asking the hosts of other blogs (like Tarry Tao's blog) to add Azimuth to their blogroll? That won't attract climate scientists in a first order approximation, but maybe the mathematicians over there will talk to collegues and spread the word...
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26.

I'll consider it. I hate "begging"...

Comment Source:I'll consider it. I hate "begging"...
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27.

Referring to post 3 for a moment, it would be really useful if John could attend the SIEW conference. SGD 1500 is a bit steep for an academic, but maybe John could ask if there is any academic discount. If so, would any of us be willing to help fund this? I'm happy to do so up to 20%. We can worry about fund transfer later.

The meeting is in part sponsored by the National University of Singapore (NUS) Energy Studies Institute (ESI). Contacting them about academic discount might be a start. In following the link, I came across microgrids. It had not occurred to me that the American DoD are expert at off-grid power generation for obvious reasons!

Comment Source:Referring to post 3 for a moment, it would be really useful if John could attend the [SIEW conference](http://singapore.iew.com.sg/about-siew). SGD 1500 is a bit steep for an academic, but maybe John could ask if there is any academic discount. If so, would any of us be willing to help fund this? I'm happy to do so up to 20%. We can worry about fund transfer later. The meeting is in part sponsored by the National University of Singapore (NUS) [Energy Studies Institute](http://www.esi.nus.edu.sg/portal/) (ESI). Contacting them about academic discount might be a start. In following the link, I came across [microgrids](http://energy-vibes.com/tag/microgrids/). It had not occurred to me that the American DoD are expert at off-grid power generation for obvious reasons!
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28.

Following the last post (28), the clean energies technologies symposium appears to be "open".

Comment Source:Following the last post (28), the [clean energies technologies symposium](http://singapore.iew.com.sg/clean-energy-technologies-symposium) appears to be "open".
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29.
edited October 2010

Darn — the clean energies technologies symposium is now "full".

Thanks very much for your kind offer of funding. If I'd gotten organized sooner I could have probably gotten funding from the CQT. But I'm going pass up this SIEW conference except for the lecture by the Prime Minister on Monday November 1st, which is free if you register. I think it'll make more sense for me to get to know people at the Energy Studies Institute and have lots of conversations.

(Lisa is going along to the prime minister's lecture, btw. Wanna come, Walter? Don't be embarrassed to say "no". It'll be fun to see the Prime Minister, but we've got to get down to Suntec Centre by 8:45 am, which is not fun.)

Comment Source:Darn &mdash; the clean energies technologies symposium is now "full". Thanks very much for your kind offer of funding. If I'd gotten organized sooner I could have probably gotten funding from the CQT. But I'm going pass up this SIEW conference except for the lecture by the Prime Minister on Monday November 1st, which is free if you register. I think it'll make more sense for me to get to know people at the Energy Studies Institute and have lots of conversations. (Lisa is going along to the prime minister's lecture, btw. Wanna come, Walter? Don't be embarrassed to say "no". It'll be fun to see the Prime Minister, but we've got to get down to Suntec Centre by 8:45 am, which is not fun.)
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30.

I can do that. There's a Starbucks in the convention centre for the morning caffeine, and then there's Paulaner across the road for lunch. You can blog it while having a reasonable beer!

Comment Source:I can do that. There's a Starbucks in the convention centre for the morning caffeine, and then there's [Paulaner](http://maps.google.com/maps?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&oe=utf-8&ie=UTF8&q=paulaner+singapore&fb=1&hq=paulaner&hnear=Singapore&cid=0,0,1126193647970190638&ei=sZ3DTNXbMcLMcJ2UycwN&ved=0CB8QnwIwAw&z=16&iwloc=A) across the road for lunch. You can blog it while having a reasonable beer!
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31.
edited October 2010

There's a Starbucks in the convention centre for the morning caffeine, and then there's Paulaner across the road for lunch. You can blog it while having a reasonable beer!

Great! You need to register to go the Prime Minister's talk. Go here and fill out the forms to attend the "Singapore Energy Lecture". They'll send you an email with a letter that you can print out and bring with you to "expedite" getting a registration badge. Bureaucracy prevails!

But it wasn't too hard, and I'm already looking forward to that coffee. We can try to meet up — I've got your cell number — and maybe hang out a bit afterwards.

Comment Source:>There's a Starbucks in the convention centre for the morning caffeine, and then there's Paulaner across the road for lunch. You can blog it while having a reasonable beer! Great! You need to register to go the Prime Minister's talk. <a href = "http://globalsignin.com.sg/2/events/325/">Go here</a> and fill out the forms to attend the "Singapore Energy Lecture". They'll send you an email with a letter that you can print out and bring with you to "expedite" getting a registration badge. Bureaucracy prevails! But it wasn't too hard, and I'm already looking forward to that coffee. We can try to meet up &mdash; I've got your cell number &mdash; and maybe hang out a bit afterwards.
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32.

Unbelievable, there is a Paulaner Bräuhaus in Singapore! Do they import their beer from Germany or do they brew it themselves?

Comment Source:Unbelievable, there is a Paulaner Bräuhaus in Singapore! Do they import their beer from Germany or do they brew it themselves?
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33.

Brewed locally. Persuade John to hold the first Azimuth conference in Singapore.

Comment Source:Brewed locally. Persuade John to hold the first Azimuth conference in Singapore.